I Am 16 Going On…Wait

I would argue that one of the few perks of turning 16 was being able to sing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” Now that I’m a twenty something that doesn’t really work as well anymore. Now I don’t know about you, but my family is one of those families that is obsessed with watching The Sound of Music. We think it’s a movie that never gets old. I have seen the movie more times than I can count, and one of my more distinctive childhood memories is of one cousin who liked to continuously rewind and watch Julie Andrews tripping in the middle of singing “I Have Confidence.” GIF below for your viewing pleasure. Welcome to my childhood.

So because we were going to Salzburg, my Dad and I were more or less required to go on a Sound of Music tour. Or at least that’s what I thought. My Dad might have had a different opinion on that score. I admit I even rewatched the movie before our holiday. I hadn’t seen the movie in years so a lot of the things that I had difficulty understanding as a kid (literally anything to do with the Nazis) now made a bit more sense.

But The Sound of Music tour wasn’t actually the first thing we did that day. We booked a combined tour with Viator that involved going to the region’s salt mines. And when I say “region” I really mean Germany. So, early in the morning we hopped on a bus and crossed over into Germany. Now let me just say that it was very cold in the morning (this fact becomes more relevant later on). If memory serves me correctly, it was around -10°C (14°F) so our tour bus was feeling really nice and cosy. After a short bit of driving, we stopped on one of the local mountains to stretch our legs and admire the view. It also happens to be the same mountain that Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest is built on. The Eagle’s Nest was a 50th birthday present to Hitler from the Nazi party and many of the buildings that were built lower down on the mountain were the homes of other high ranking officials. The Eagle’s Nest is inaccessible during winter but we could JUST make it out on the top of the mountain (right picture on the top row).

IMG_7528  IMG_7531  IMG_7536IMG_7539  IMG_7540  IMG_7543When we had finished walking around we were driven to a nearby town called Berchtesgaden and allowed to wander around before climbing back into the bus to go to the town’s salt mines.

IMG_7551  IMG_7553  IMG_7558IMG_7560  IMG_7563  IMG_7561The salt mine tour was a ton of fun. Unfortunately the mine doesn’t allow photography, but you can get a good idea of how everything looked on Google Images. The first thing we had to do for the tour was to suit up into special overalls. Once everyone was ready we took a train down into the mines where we were led on the actual tour. According to our guide, the area where the mine is used to be under the ocean. Once the mountains formed and rose out of the ocean they created a small salty lake. Over time the lake evaporated, leaving the salt behind. The composite rock that remains contains on average a 50% salt content.

The mine has been operating continuously since 1517 and still produces several tons of salt a day. Right now it’s hard to believe that for such a big operation they only need 100 people to keep everything running smoothly.

The way they currently mine the salt is by drilling a test shaft see if there is enough salt to make further drilling worthwhile. If the salt content is high enough, a tunnel is drilled and then a hollow pocket is created using fresh water. This pocket is then filled with fresh water, which soaks up the salt and creates brine. The brine is then taken out of the pocket and boiled. Then voilà! You have salt.

Overall I had a really great time on the tour. The content was interesting and things were spiced up when we were allowed to take slides down to different levels of the mine and by a lake that we crossed by boat. The tour took about two hours and once we were done we hopped back on the train and rode it up to the surface. And when we got there it was snowing. Remember how I said it was cold? This was the result. Some enterprising kids had even built a snowman. Carrot nose and all.

IMG_7568  IMG_7566  IMG_7571After that we went back to Salzburg and had about an hour to kill before The Sound of Music Tour. When we finally did get on the bus it was packed. I think at one point our tour guide said that it was a 72 person bus and I’m pretty sure that every seat was full. To my delight, there were actually a number of kids on the bus. I was wondering if the current generation also watches The Sound of Music on repeat and based on the singing seven year old sitting across from me the answer is yes. She knew every word to the lyrics. Thankfully not everyone else was really up for singing the whole time and most of us were content to just listen to The Sound of Music soundtrack.

Now there are a few things you should know about The Sound of Music. The first is that most of the indoor scenes took place in Hollywood. This means that pretty much all of the things we were going to see on the tour were outdoor locations. And to top things off it was still snowing.

So, first things first. We went to the lake that Julie Andrews and all of the children famously fall into.

It was here that we learned that there were actually two houses used when filming the exterior of the von Trapp house. The exterior shots of the grounds were all done at this location while the house itself (the one you can see behind Captain von Trapp throughout this scene) is actually a completely different house. Unfortunately the snow didn’t really make for good pictures, but the house to the left is the one with the outdoor scenes and the lake (the lake is in the very front of the picture covered in snow), while the two pictures on the right show the house that was actually depicted in the movie. The yellow wall you can see is the wall Maria runs along when she’s singing “I Have Confidence.”

IMG_7580  IMG_7586  IMG_7587So now you’re probably thinking that the gazebo where Liesl famously sings “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” would be close to this first lake property. Well it used to be. The land that the gazebo rested on was bought by an American company and walled off. If I remember the numbers correctly, Salzburg receives 11 million tourists every year and 20% of them come JUST for The Sound of Music. Now with that many people coming through every year not everyone is really going to be daunted by a wall. So the company experienced problems with people hopping into private property and generally making themselves known by poorly singing “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” especially when they’ve been helped along with some glühwein, or mulled wine. So eventually the company decided to have the gazebo moved in order to make everyone happy. Hellbrunn Palace was eventually chosen as the final destination, so it was there that we could finally see the gazebo.

IMG_7597  IMG_7590  IMG_7593Now you probably can’t tell from the pictures, but the gazebo isn’t actually that large. It’s definitely not large enough to contain the dance number that happens in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” So this gazebo was only used in outside shots. For the dancing, they danced in another gazebo. Apparently Liesl, or Charmian Carr, actually ended up putting her foot through one of the glass window panes and was given a BandAid before being told to continue dancing. After all, “the show must go on.” All of this just makes the dancing that much more impressive.

And it was still snowing. Our tour guide was talking to a family sitting towards the front of the bus and told us that apparently one little girl was pretty satisfied. Why you might ask? Well she had asked Santa for snow. When she was asked if she had really been that good this year she responded “Yes” without hesitation. We then asked her to just wish for a little less snow next time.

Because of the weather, we encountered a few hang ups in getting to our next destination. Salzburg is apparently a one way city so when accidents happen they stop the whole city. After encountering two accidents, and even being stuck behind a bicyclist, most of our attempts to get out of the city were being thwarted. They even had to shut down the highway so that they could finally get someone out there to clear the snow.

So, while we waited for things to get sorted out driving wise we were told the real von Trapp story. Captain von Trapp was in fact a widower with seven children and had been a captain in the navy. Now something that I had never actually thought about was the navy part of that sentence. Austria as it currently exists does not have a coastline. BUT it did before World War I, which is how Captain von Trapp ended up working in a submarine.

Maria on the other hand was not a novice at an abbey. She was a step below that. Apparently in order to be a novice you must take a two year vow of silence in order to see whether you are capable of taking a lifelong vow of silence. Maria wasn’t quite at that point. She was however working to finish up her teacher’s license when Captain von Trapp asked the Mother Superior if she could recommend a teacher. The Captain’s wife had died of scarlet fever and his daughter had also suffered from it. While it had killed his wife, it had spared his daughter, also named Maria, although it had made her feeble due to a weakened heart.

So Maria was sent to the von Trapps. There was in fact a Baroness in the picture…but she was the housekeeper. Apparently the children also had governesses but because of their aristocratic upbringing were kept separated by age group. Maria found this strange and started to take the children out as one large group. They sang Christmas songs, built Christmas wreaths, hiked through the forrest, etc. It was the first time the children had been together since their mother had died. Which means that…

The captain received a letter from one of his children telling him to come back and marry Maria so that she could stay with them forever. The captain on the other hand had been on holiday with a certain Princess Yvonne (the equivalent of the movie’s baroness). So the captain left the holiday early (effectively cutting off any engagement plans) and returned home. Here he confronted Maria. He asked what had been going on and proposed oh so romantically by saying “The children think we should get married. What are your thoughts on that?” Maria, who was in fact very religious, went back to the abbey to ask the Mother Superior for her thoughts. The Mother Superior thought that it was God’s will that she marry the Captain and help them become a family again. So Maria returned to the von Trapp residence. Here she encountered the Captain in the library. He asked her what her thoughts were and apparently she burst into tears before saying something along the lines of “I guess I have to marry you.” Talk about faith in God.

Thankfully they had a very happy marriage. But they encountered one major problem. The bank where Captain von Trapp had stored his wealth (as well as the significant wealth of his late wife) went bust. Because he was a very kind man he withdrew his remaining wealth and invested it in another branch of the bank, hoping that it would help sustain the bank. No such luck. So the von Trapps fell from spectacular wealth into poverty. They let go of their servants and moved into the servants quarters before renting out the rooms of their home.

One guest happened to be an opera singer who heard the family singing. The singer was there for the Salzburg Music Festival and managed to enroll the family into a locals competition where the von Trapps won. Due to their success at the festival, they started to travel around Europe and make money through concerts. They were even invited to go and tour in the United States, which they turned down until…

Hitler invaded Austria. Now the Captain was not actually wanted for active duty. When he had been a submarine captain exhaust systems hadn’t been perfected. This meant that all of the exhaust that was theoretically supposed to leave the submarine was instead recirculated inside the submarine, causing many men, including the Captain, to develop lung cancer. Anyways, the family knew that they did not want to stay in Salzburg under Hitler’s rule and managed to use their US connection to get a gig in the United States. They unglamorously escaped Austria via train and boat.

Once in the United States, they settled in Stowe, Vermont. Maria then had their tenth child in the United States which allowed the whole family to stay.

Maria eventually wrote a book about her experiences. Being a religious woman, she wanted to book to show the importance of perseverance and faith. Broadway apparently offered to buy the rights to the book and she refused, thinking it wasn’t in line with her reasons for writing the book. She did however sell to a German producer for a few thousand dollars, who later sold to Broadway for over a million dollars. Maria to her credit didn’t seek any of this money. Maria herself apparently liked the movie but her one quibble was with the portrayal of the Captain. Apparently he really was a very nice man so she didn’t approve of his aloof movie persona.

Now a few more Sound of Music facts before I get back to the tour. A large number of people in Salzburg actually haven’t seen The Sound of Music. Now considering the sheer number of Sound of Music tour buses and tourists that come into the city you might be wondering why that is. It’s because a German version of The Sound of Music wasn’t made until much later. Apparently listening to the songs in German is not a recommended activity.

Lastly, The Sound of Music actually hurt the careers of everyone in the movie other than Christopher Plummer, Captain von Trapp. Although Julie Andrews was nominated for Oscars for both Mary Poppins (which was released a year prior to The Sound of Music) and The Sound of Music, she was never quite able to shake the image of the singing woman who looks after children. None of the children in the movie ever managed to make it big either.

But back to the tour. So having almost literally climbed every mountain and forded every stream we eventually arrived at the town of Mondsee. You’re probably wondering what we’re doing there. Well it has the church where Maria and the Captain get married.

Salzburg used to be a very important religious center so there are plenty of churches in Salzburg. The problem is that none of the 50+ churches in Salzburg were willing to have Hollywood producers film inside them. In fact, none of the church scenes in the movie are filmed in Salzburg EXCEPT when Maria leaves the abbey to go to the von Trapp house. Mondsee on the other hand was thrilled to have Hollywood visit their small town. So the famous wedding scene was filmed inside their church.

IMG_7603  IMG_7610  IMG_7623After we were done with Mondsee we hopped back on the bus where we were treated to a video documenting some of the filming behind The Sound of Music. I have to admit, it was nice to see clips from the movie paired with sights that we had just been to.

Once we finally arrived back in Salzburg (in total we had experienced about a two hour delay due to the snow) my Dad and I stopped by the Mirabell Gardens for one last photo op. The Mirabell Gardens is where they filmed most of “Do-Re-Mi,” though you honestly can’t tell from my pictures because yup, you guessed it, everything was covered in snow.

IMG_7646  IMG_7653  IMG_7650But even with all of the snow, it was still a very good day. I have to say that I left Salzburg the next morning a very happy camper.

Off to Salzburg

We left Vienna early in the morning to catch a train to Salzburg. Now considering that we had taken 26 hours worth of trains just a few days before, I was pretty indifferent to the countryside, which meant that instead of looking out the window I decided to finish reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, which I would recommend if you are in need of a good book.

We arrived in Salzburg in the afternoon and after grabbing a small lunch at the hotel headed out into the snow to see what we could before sunset. We passed the Mirabell Gardens, Mozarteum, which is more or less Salzburg’s music university, and the Marionette Theatre (which is paid homage to in The Sound of Music) before crossing a bridge into town.

IMG_7439  IMG_7442  IMG_7443IMG_2148Overall it didn’t take us too long to walk into Old Salzburg. To be honest, I never thought that there would really be much to do in Salzburg, but Lonely Planet proved me wrong. Unfortunately, due to the way we had arranged our travel plans, we just weren’t going to be able to see much of it. This was really our only shot at seeing anything in town.

Our first stop was to Mozarts Geburtshaus, the house where Mozart was born and raised. While the museum taught me a few things about Mozart, I wouldn’t have said that it was anything very special. One thing that I did find interesting was how Salzburg has really tried to take ownership of Mozart. Mozart is depicted everywhere in the city, which makes it a bit ironic that Mozart himself was not a huge fan of the city and experienced his greatest success when he left.

Once we were through with the museum, we walked through the old town square. I have to hand it to Salzburg, even in the darkness and the snow the city was really quaint and beautiful.

IMG_7453  IMG_7459  IMG_7456We also stopped by Stiftskirche Sankt Peter, or St. Peter’s Church. We started out by wandering around the cemetery and the catacombs. The catacombs gave us a fairly good view over the church and the city so it’s something that I’d recommend if you don’t have the time to climb one of Salzburg’s mountains.

IMG_7470  IMG_7478  IMG_7479By the time we climbed down from the catacombs it was more or less dark. This also meant that most things were closed. Because we were pretty limited in what we could do, we stopped by the church (one of the few sights that was still open) before slowly making our way back to our hotel.

IMG_7499  IMG_7494  IMG_7497IMG_7506  IMG_7501  IMG_7507IMG_7520  IMG_7527  IMG_7525Even though we weren’t able to see much, it was nice to get a small sense of the city. I will also say that the day’s biggest success arguably happened over dinner. When my dad and I had eaten lunch at the hotel we spotted a group of four devouring a humongous dessert (it was about three times as large as the amount in the picture). So of course my Dad and I had to ask our waiter what this dessert was and then order it over dinner. It turns out with was salzburger nockerl, a Salzburg specialty, and was quite delicious. So we managed to end the day on both a sweet and high note.


Vienna Wrap Up

I really enjoyed my trip to Vienna and loved that there was always something to do. In fact, I still have plenty of things on my bucket list, so hopefully I’ll make it back at a later date. Here are my tips and tricks:

  1. Vienna is a very walkable city (unless you’re going out to Schönbrunn Palace) and the subway is also easy to use. Note: Google Maps doesn’t really work well with Vienna’s public transportation, and I still have no idea how the trams or the buses work.
  2. I would say that depending on the length of your stay it might be more economical to buy a transportation pass instead of a Vienna Pass. The Vienna Pass gives you only around a 1 Euro discount on major sights as well as access to public transportation. Be sure to validate your transportation card if required (the week long passes don’t need validation).
  3. Make dinner reservations in advance or go to dinner on the early side (around 6 pm) for the more popular places. I would highly recommend At Eight, Plachutta (for tafelspitz), and Figlmueller (for schnitzel).
  4. When you are ready to order close your menu, otherwise the waiters will ignore you.
  5. Don’t forget to tip about 5-10%.
  6. Stock up on 50 cent coins since you need to pay for a surprisingly large number of bathrooms in Vienna.
  7. Go to a concert! Vienna is known as the City of Music and a concert is well worth your time. You don’t necessarily have to make reservations in advance since there are plenty of registered ticket sellers who will try to sell you tickets on the street. There are also plenty of free concerts that you can find, especially in the churches.
  8. Go to a café. Café culture is really big in Vienna so stop by one to grab either food or coffee.
  9. Be sure to have some Sacher torte even if it isn’t at the Sacher Hotel.
  10. For me the permanent must sees were: Karlskirche (take the elevator up to the top of the dome), Stephansdom (get all-inclusive tickets and prepare to spend at least half a day there), Prater Ferris Wheel, Schönbrunn Palace, and Imperial Treasury.
  11. The temporary must sees were: the Monet exhibit at the Lower Belvedere and the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien
  12. If you’d like to get a good and quick sense of the city and where everything is take The Ring Tram Tour (the yellow tram) starting in Schwedenplatz
  13. Keep in mind that most museums have strange photography policies (some things you can photograph, others you can’t)

Museum Quarter and the Opera

This was our last day in Vienna so we decided to take it at a more leisurely pace. Our first stop was the Museum Quarter so that we could visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum, or Art History Museum.

IMG_2090  IMG_2087  IMG_2092IMG_2094  IMG_2096  IMG_2095If you look closely at the middle picture in the second row you can JUST make out a bit of artwork above the arches. That was done by Gustav Klimt.

My Dad particularly wanted to see a Velásquez exhibit that was on, and Velásquez is one of the few artists that I vaguely remember from my AP Art History class. Sure enough, I recognized some of his more popular works such as Venus at Her Toilet and Las Meninas. To be honest I’d always thought Las Meninas was a rather blah painting so I was interested to see if I found it boring in person. To my great surprise I really liked it…until I saw that it was actually a copy of the one in the Prado.

Anyways, I still managed to remember enough art history to point out to my Dad that the entire painting is a rather large self-portrait. Velasquez is the rather shadowy painter off to the left of the painting and the canvas in the picture is supposed to represent the painting Las Meninas. So it’s a painting of Velásquez painting the painting. Trippy right?

As for Venus at Her Toilet, the only thing I could remember was that it’s clearly connected to an old and rich history of similar paintings (which at one point long ago I could recall at the drop of a hat). That and the fact that Venus isn’t looking at herself in the mirror. She’s looking at the audience. At the time, this indirect gaze was significant since it represented a shift in these types of classic paintings. And that’s about all my brain managed to dredge up from the depths of my rather shaky art history memory.

meninas  velazquez-toilet-venus-rokeby-venus-NG2057-fmAfter seeing the Velásquez exhibit we walked around the rest of the museum. The top floor mostly contained paintings while the ground level was devoted to a variety of things. My Dad and I liked looking at some of the old clockwork that was on display, particularly because a lot of the clocks were automatons, but we also had a good time wandering around the Egyptian and Roman artifacts.

IMG_2106  IMG_2112  IMG_2108After that it was time for a coffee break. Café culture is huge in Vienna and there are a plethora of well known cafés scattered throughout the city. I decided that it would be fun to visit Café Central. Not only does the café have beautiful vaulted ceilings, it also used to be a favorite haunt of people like Arthur Schnitzler, Sigmund Freud, Peter Altenberg and Leo Trotzki. This meant that my Dad and I were able to sip our coffee and feel somewhat like intellectuals.

IMG_2115  IMG_2117  IMG_2120Once we finished eating, we made our way to Hofburg Palace. Schönbrunn was not always a popular palace and was only regularly attended as a summer palace starting in the 18th century. In contrast to this, Hofburg was used as a residence for over 600 years and was therefore the center of the Holy Roman Empire. It also served as the winter palace for the Habsburgs. To be honest, the information presented in the Hofburg was pretty similar to that in Schönbrunn. That’s not to say the Hofburg wasn’t impressive, but I would say that it’s slightly less impressive than Schönbrunn (but maybe that’s just because I saw Schönbrunn first).

The thing that the Hofburg did have that Schönbrunn didn’t was the Imperial Silver Collection and a current exhibit focused on demystifying Empress Sisi. The overall sense that I got of Sisi was that she was a very unhappy woman who wasn’t particularly attached to her husband (who in contrast was absolutely devoted to her). She’s also well known for being particularly attached to her Bavarian family and for being obsessed with maintaining her beauty. So, while the Sisi exhibit was a bit grim, I would say that overall the Hofburg is worth a visit.

Afterwards we cleaned up for the opera and then headed out for a quick dinner before Rigoletto.


Unfortunately, Rigoletto is a truly depressing opera. It can be summed up by saying that pretty much everyone dies or is unhappy, while the culprit, the Duke, manages to get away scot-free. I was actually pretty surprised at the lack of a good Christian moral, though I suppose “revenge is never worthwhile” might suffice. The opera is originally based off a play by Victor Hugo (who also wrote Les Misérables) so I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the opera is decidedly sad. That being said, my Dad and I didn’t have any of this background knowledge when we bought the tickets. We mostly just knew it as a famous opera.

As for the opera itself, it ended up being great. The quality of the singing more than made up for the depressing plot. We even managed to enjoy ourselves despite the fact that we could only see about 50 percent of the stage.

Funnily enough, one of the opera’s most famous songs is one that I remembered from Disney’s Aristocats. If you watch the beginning of the Disney video you can see that George, the old lawyer, hums the tune “La donna è mobile” during the first 15 seconds of the video. I guess back in the day Disney was teaching me opera without me knowing it.

Don’t worry, I don’t think our Duke had eyes quite as crazy as Pavarotti’s.

One really great thing about the Vienna Opera is that they offer very cheap standing room tickets (we saw people queuing for them a good two hours ahead of time) and they also project the live performances on a screen outside of the building.

Once the opera had finished, we went to the Sacher Hotel for some of their famous Sacher torte. Now the Sacher Hotel is a fairly swanky place, to the extent that a man helped me out of my coat at coatcheck (he ignored me when I said I could do it myself–I felt a bit like Matthew Crawley in his early days at Downton Abbey).

Fun fact: although the Sacher torte is a renown Viennese dessert, it was an accident. Apparently the court chef fell ill the day a lot of high ranking guests were scheduled to arrive at court, leaving the apprentice chef, Franz Sacher, to come up with a dessert. Clearly he passed with flying colors. Now the Sacher torte at the Sacher Hotel is made from what is essentially a secret recipe. The recipe itself apparently requires 36 steps and exclusive wooden boxes. While this sounds like an excessive amount of effort to spend on a slice of cake, I will admit that it was pretty delicious.

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Thoroughly stuffed, my Dad and I gathered our coats (this time I let the man at coatcheck help me with my coat) and we walked back to our hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Vienna Decked Out

The next day we returned to Schloß Schönbrunn. Our tickets still allowed us access to the Desert Experience, Palm House, Zoo, Carriage House, Strudel Show, and more. And while we wanted to get the most out of our tickets, we also wanted to see everything during the day.

We started out by walking somewhat aimlessly through the grounds and then climbed the hill behind the palace to the café. This ended up giving us quite a nice view of the palace, grounds, and the surrounding city.

IMG_7145  IMG_7173  IMG_7195We walked by the zoo but decided to pass on it. To our delight however we did manage to catch a glimpse of the rhinos on our walk by.

Because we spent about a solid hour walking around the frigid grounds, we were quite happy to enter the Palm House. What my Dad and I hadn’t realized was that this would cause enough of a temperature shift to completely fog up our camera lenses. While my Dad decided to wipe his lens off, I decided to leave mine the way it was and play with the effect it made on the pictures.

IMG_7211  IMG_7214  IMG_7220IMG_7229  IMG_7236  IMG_7223Once we finished walking around the Palm House and accidentally crashing a small wedding ceremony, we crossed the road to the Desert Experience. It was only slightly less exotic than it sounds. It turned out to be similar to a greenhouse but without the humidity. Similar to the Palm House, there were a variety of plants, or in this case cacti, but there were also animals! One of my favorite moments was finally spotting the elephant shrew below. After hiding almost the entire time we were there, he decided to dart out and say hi at the last minute.

IMG_7244  IMG_7302  IMG_7267IMG_7273  IMG_7288  IMG_7296As much as we enjoyed the Desert Experience, it was eventually time for us to return to the bitter cold. All we really wanted to do by then was just finish our walk around the grounds before heading back into the city.

IMG_7310  IMG_7312  IMG_7316But then I heard my stomach growl. So instead of going back into town we decided to go to the Strudel Show. The show was actually quite good–then again my apple strudel sample might have a large part to do with my satisfaction.

It was only after we cleaned even the crumbs off of our plates that we finally left Schönbrunn. My Lonely Planet book on Vienna had warned us that Schönbrunn was worth a day trip, and considering how much time my Dad and I spent there I would definitely agree, especially considering that we didn’t even manage to see everything.

After that we went to the Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien. The exhibit was there to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Toulouse-Lautrec’s birth. Now if you have no idea who Toulouse-Lautrec is never fear. You probably recognize his most popular work Moulin Rouge-La Goulue, which also happens to be the work that made him an overnight success:


Overall the exhibit was really great. It covered Toulouse-Latrec’s very short life and did a good job of chronicling his work. Half the fun was just seeing how his art developed over time. His posters in particular were great to see up close. If you happen to have the chance I’d highly recommend a visit.

Our next destination was the Imperial Treasury. I’ve always enjoyed looking at the various treasures that nations have so I was excited to see some of Austria’s crown jewels. They were impressive to say the least. My favorite piece (which unfortunately isn’t pictured) was a “unicorn horn.” The sign clarified that it was actually a narwhal tusk, but it’s always nice to dream.

IMG_7331  IMG_7337  IMG_7345IMG_7383  IMG_7391  IMG_7396IMG_7366  IMG_7371  IMG_7376After we finished with Treasury, we slowly walked back to our hotel. This allowed us to soak in a few more of the sights along the way, such as the National Library, Mozart monument, and Opera House. While we were at the Opera House we decided to look into tickets for the next day’s performance of Rigoletto. The ticket seller had only a few nosebleed seats left but my Dad and I decided to take them.

IMG_7417  IMG_7425  IMG_7429After that, we were off in search of the famous Figlmueller, a restaurant chain that claims to be the home of the schnitzel. Even though we didn’t have a reservation at the restaurant and when we called the restaurant claimed that it was full, my Dad and I decided to go early and see if we could just walk in. It turns out we made it just in time. We were just able to get some of the last seats available. I of course ordered the schnitzel and it was as delicious as advertised. Considering that the schnitzel took up my entire plate, I believe the restaurant when they say that they measure each schnitzel to make sure that it’s 30 cm (11.8 inches) in diameter. I have to admit that overall my Dad and I did a good job on the food front.

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Funnily enough, more things were open on Christmas than on Christmas Eve, and most of them were open for longer. My Dad and I were pretty content to just call our trip our Christmas present, but our hotel had graciously given us holiday slippers and sweets the night before. So, after testing out the slippers and eating a few of the sweets we prepared to begin our Christmas adventures.

The first thing we went to was Schwedenplatz so that we could board a Ring Tram Tour. The Ring refers to the road called Ringstraße, which also happens to be where Vienna’s city walls were. The tour mostly consisted of riding a yellow tram around the Ring and listening to an audioguide point out notable sights along the way. All in all the tour took about 25 minutes. While the tour wasn’t particularly exciting, I still found it worthwhile since it pointed out some of the major sights in the city, taught us a little bit of history, and helped orient me.

IMG_6993  IMG_6982  IMG_6987After the tour finished, we made our way to the Belvedere museums. The Belvedere property contains the Upper Belvedere, the Lower Belvedere, the Winter Palace, and the grounds. Unfortunately it was raining, so my Dad and I decided against exploring the grounds and immediately made a beeline for the Upper Belvedere. The Upper Belvedere is famous for having a large number of Klimt paintings, most notably The Kiss, but it also contains other well known pieces such as Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps. I’m a Klimt fan so I enjoyed seeing his artwork, but I didn’t find much else in the Upper Belvedere particularly exciting.

I will also say that the Belvedere has particularly confusing photography standards. Some rooms you could photograph, others you couldn’t, some statues you could photograph, others you couldn’t, etc. Because I’m a shutterbug I was alternately yelled at and encouraged a number of times.

IMG_7025  IMG_7023  IMG_7026IMG_7046  IMG_7036  IMG_7052My Dad and I hadn’t originally planned on going to the Lower Belvedere since it mostly speicalizes in modern art, but a sign caught our eyes saying that the Lower Belvedere currently had a Monet exhibit. My Dad and I happen to be big Monet fans so we made our way over to the Lower Belvedere to upgrade our tickets. To our surprise, we ended up liking the Lower Belvedere much more than the Upper Belvedere. The Monet exhibit was fantastic and featured a large number of his paintings. The rest of the Lower Belvedere was interesting, but the Monet was what made the entire Belvedere trip really worthwhile.

IMG_7056  IMG_7062  IMG_7065Once we had finished with the Belvedere, we made our way towards Schloß Schönbrunn, or Schönbrunn Palace. My Dad and I initially had some difficulties remembering the name Schönbrunn and so my Dad decided to dub it “Sunnybun.” The palace lies just outside the center of Vienna so we had to take the subway to get there, but it was well worth the trip. Because we were going later in the day we only had time to do a tour around the palace. The guide that we were provided with turned out to be an audioguide, and while I’m generally not a fan of audioguides, this one wasn’t actually too bad. Some of the audioguide numbers were a bit outdated, but overall it was a pleasant experience.

Schönbrunn was originally commissioned in the 17th century to serve as a hunting lodge, but under Empress Maria Theresa it became the focus of court life. Since then it has hosted a number of momentous events and notable people. Some of the rooms that we saw featured great historical events, but the majority of the rooms were the private rooms of the Habsburg family. In retrospect, Schönbrunn was one of my favorite sights.

After we were done with the tour, we wandered around the grounds and paid a visit to the Christmas market.

IMG_7120  IMG_7092  IMG_7093IMG_7099  IMG_7108  IMG_7116IMG_7121  IMG_7140  IMG_7131Once we finished, we went back to our hotel before coming back again for the Christmas concert. The concert primarily featured two of Austria’s golden boys, Mozart and Strauss. The music was great and to top it all off there was also some opera and ballet mixed in. So, in honor of the concert I leave you with Austria’s unofficial national anthem, Blue Danube.

Christmas Eve

To our very great surprise, Vienna doesn’t totally shut down during the Christmas holidays. So, even though it was Christmas Eve we were still able to get in some sightseeing. Our first stop of the day was Stephansdom, or St. Steven’s Cathedral.

IMG_6632  IMG_6635  IMG_6660IMG_6646  IMG_6649  IMG_6648 IMG_6650  IMG_6669 IMG_6759According to their website, Stephansdom is the number one attraction in the city and attracts just under 3 million people every year. It is clearly the star church in the city and is something that can be seen from most places within central Vienna. I really wanted to take an English tour of the church, since after a certain point European churches all tend to blur together, but the only English tour the church offered was an English audioguide that only addressed the inside of the church. My dad and I decided to pass on this in favor of buying all inclusive tickets. These tickets gave us access to the South Tower, North Tower, church, catacombs, and treasury (which was closed for the day).

We quickly wandered through the main cathedral before heading to the North Tower. The thing that struck me the most about the interior was the almost complete lack of stain glass windows. My initial guess was that the church had been bombed. Sure enough, we spotted some pictures of the church and the work that had to be done on it after World War II. We could see that the roof had completely collapsed so it was hardly a surprise that the windows hadn’t lasted either.

IMG_6641  IMG_6642  IMG_6645Afterwards, we made our way to the North Tower. Thankfully the tower had an elevator that we could ride up. Once at the top it provided us with a truly wonderful view of Vienna and the church’s unique roof.

IMG_6683  IMG_6701  IMG_6711IMG_6714  IMG_6688  IMG_6716After that we made our way down to the catacombs. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take pictures there so you’ll have to either use Google or your imagination. The catacombs contain some Hapsburg remains and those of senior clergy and cardinals, but they weren’t solely reserved for the upper class. Mass burials occurred in the catacombs, especially when it came to burying victims of the Black Death, and you can still see the bones in the pits that they used for these burials. Additionally, prisoners were once forced to clean and stack some of the bones in the catacombs so there are literally hundreds of bones on display underneath the church.

Once we had finished there, we made our way to the South Tower. You can’t actually get to the very top of the South Tower, but you can get to about the halfway point (67 meters up). Once you climb the requisite 343 steps you get an even better view of Vienna than at the North Tower. Because there are so many steps however they do tell you that you shouldn’t drink beforehand. So no glühwein (mulled wine) for us.

IMG_6768  IMG_6770  IMG_6788IMG_6780  IMG_6783  IMG_6786When we finished, we stopped for coffee and lunch at the famous café Demel and then crossed the city to go to the Prater Ferris Wheel. Now for those of you who are:

  • From my parent’s generation
  • Into old movies
  • Watched post-World War II movies for class

you may recognize the ferris wheel from The Third Man. I of course recognized the ferris wheel from James Bond but sooner or later hazy memories from the class “The European Postwar: Literature, Film, Politics” reminded me that I had also watched The Third Man my senior year in college. Clearly I considered pursuing all things James Bond related (allegedly for my senior thesis) more interesting that paying attention to my postwar class. Oh well.

Because we went to the ferris wheel on Christmas Eve, the amusement park that houses it was pretty deserted (in fact it was very similar to the ferris wheel scene in the Third Man), but that also meant that the lines were short. Without too much of a delay my Dad and I were able to get on board and enjoy the view from the top.

IMG_6826  IMG_6845  IMG_6849IMG_6867  IMG_6869  IMG_6878IMG_6919  IMG_6928  IMG_6920The ferris wheel only takes about 20 minutes so before we knew it we were back on the ground. While things had been open towards the beginning of the day, things started closing soon after we got off the ferris wheel. Our attempts to go to the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien and the Hofburg Palace were in vain so we ended up settling with the Christmas market in the Museum Quarter and drinking Christmas punch. I decided to try something that roughly translated to “Mozart’s punch,” and I have to say that if Mozart was drinking that I have no idea how he managed to get anything done since it had a very generous amount of alcohol poured in.

IMG_6957  IMG_6950  IMG_6966Everything more or less shut down at 3 pm, so after that my Dad and I just relaxed around the hotel until our Christmas dinner reservations. Thanks to a random recommendation from Travel and Leisure we decided to try our luck at a restaurant called At Eight. Even though the restaurant started out pretty sparsely populated, it filled up towards 7 pm and for good reason. The food was some of the best that I’ve ever had. Not a bad way to spend Christmas Eve at all.